The first of what I hope are many field trips and investigations is now up on the site in a section called Explorations.  This will be the location for these site-specific journeys, and will be augmented with maps, narratives, soundscapes, and images layered to tell the Water Stories of these hidden streams and buried creeks.

For this initial foray, in Seattle, it was immense fun to wander the areas north of Green Lake and discover the history of Licton Springs. As you see from the map below, the historic routes show a stream flowing southwards into Green Lake.  The reach of the waterway starts around Licton Springs Park, where it is sees daylight for a stretch, along with some other intermittent segments where it pops up in surprising ways, throughout the neighborhood.

The story of Licton Springs focuses on the significance to Native Duwamish peoples, who celebrated the place and it’s spiritual, reddish, iron-oxide infused waters, and to early settlers, who lived and recreated, bathed in thermal pools, and bottled and drank of the healing mineral waters.

Like many places, the history of how the place evolved and how it was maintained is of interest, but the journey of the now and the experience of a day of exploring the edges, the muddy margins, and the sloppy seeps (lost shoes included) connect the history of place to the experience of today.

Beyond the park, there are a number of other discoveries that paint a story of people and place woved together through the flow of water.  Discovery of the story of Pilling’s Pond, a small section carved out of the flow of Licton Springs to provide a sanctuary where Charles Pilling became a world expert duck breeding in the middle of Seattle.

The discoveries also include a unique segment of stream fronting Ashworth Avenue,  a single residential block with driveways and fences literally bridging over the final daylit segment of of Licton Springs, showing how each owner shaped, or left feral, their little piece of the wild.

The connection as well with the virtual, with the final connection is made to Green Lake.  Now only connected via overflow, the tracery of Licton Springs, imagined perhaps in some abstracted water play forms, swales, and cascades, may still be allow the creek to be evident, if only in our imagination.

The link below expands on this summary, so check it out, go out and explore, and come back with some water stories of your own.

READ THE FULL EXPLORATION OF LICTON SPRINGS

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If you haven’t had a chance to check out the installation ‘Calling Thunder: Unsung NYC’ it’s a fantastic example of using digital storytelling methods that connect with hidden hydrology.  The project extends the work of the Welikia Project. which provides ecological history of New York along with some great visualizations of pre-development in the form of maps and 3D graphics.   A little background comes from the article in the NY Times from April 25th, ‘The Sounds of ‘Mannahatta’ in Your Ear’:

““Calling Thunder,” is an aural bridge across four centuries. It builds on Dr. Sanderson’s stunning work, with Markley Boyer, in creating visualizations of the rolling landscape of 1609 Manhattan — known by the Lenape people as Mannahatta, “the island of many hills” — that are twinned with photographs of the same points in the modern city. We see hills and streams at places now occupied by skyscrapers and subway tunnels; a red maple swamp where an H&M store stands in Times Square.

Drawing on the work on Mannahatta, the immersive video and 360 video and soon VR animate the lovely maps that populated the original books.  As one moves through the pre-1600s aerial imagery, it transitions to the modern cityscape,  The visuals showcase the heart of the book “…published in 2009, and its classic, bookly virtues — visual beauty, wit and imagination, all underwritten by deep scholarship — persuasively deliver its most astounding revelation: Manhattan in the 17th century had more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more than most rain forests or coral reefs.”

The soundscapes are the best part, a collaboration between “… Bill McQuay, a former sound engineer with NPR who is now an audio producer with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and David Al-Ibrahim, an interactive storyteller and graduate student at the School of Visual Arts.”   Using sounds from the Macaulay Library at Cornell, the soundscapes piece together species, for instance, in recreating the Collect Pond, the species of American Crow, Marsh Meadow Katydid, Bullfrog, American Bittern, Baltimore Oriole, and Black-capped Chickadee are culled from the site specific ecologies of Welikia and the range of possible species present, which is a fascinating way to experience the site.  A snapshot of the area near the Collect Pond Park shows a wide range of species to drawn sounds from,

 

I was a bit disappointed with the visuals that accompanied the soundscapes, simple, abstract, placeless sketches that distracted, more than accentuated the experience.  Looking around, one wished the simple site-specific scenes were rendered in the same graphic style as the larger renderings, only more animated scenes with residual movement, wind, rustling leaves, and environmental cues that evoke the historical places, perhaps transitioning between new and old.

Maybe a fitting next stage for the project, a simple immersive VR experience could be done without a lot of work, but the sketches aren’t going to cut it.  The goal of capturing a vision of what was and what is, with a measure of interactivity that heightened awareness of the habitat sounds would be attainable, as seen through the myriad .  I found that closing your eyes and immersing in the sounds was the best way to experience this.  The dilemma is hinted at in the article: “At first, Mr. Al-Ibrahim said, he considered presenting only the sound from each of the sites. “It turns out people don’t respond well when put in pitch blackness with a headset on,” he said. By offering readers and listeners the choice of technologies, the project sidesteps the trap of endorsing one storytelling technique to the detriment of the actual message.”


The method of disseminating historical ecology, and pair the experience with soundscapes showcases.  As a quote from Sanderson mentions, which is clear from the work on Welikia and Mannahatta, the abundance of species. For a city known as one of the most dense and urban, the previous natural resource is somewhat surprising.  This is the beauty of connecting the past and the present.

As mentioned, “The Unsung website offers various ways to take in the weave of history, research and informed speculation in “Calling Thunder,” each with its own rewards: as a simple audio recording, 360-degree video, or, coming soon, virtual reality.”  I can’t wait to see the next installment and appreciate the inspiration of full-sensory experiences.

I had the opportunity to see Kate Orff from SCAPE speak a few weeks back at University of Washington, and it was inspiring to see the mix of project work and activism that is the mark of this creative firm.  This project aligns nicely as it is featured in her new book, Toward an Urban Ecology and is another example of ecological design in an urban context.  She focused on some of the older projects in her talk, but this is one I’ve been waiting to explore here at Hidden Hydrology, the Town Branch Commons in Lexington, Kentucky.

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The project unique example of using the historical hydrology and geology as design inspiration – not a true daylighting but falling somewhere in the middle of the continuum from art to restoration.    From Architect’s Newspaper, a recent post SCAPE turns Lexington, Kentucky’s long-buried water into an asset provides a pretty extensive visual overview and some description into the project that complements the overview in the book.

“Town Branch Commons weaves a linear network of public space along the 2.5 mile path of the historic Town Branch creek in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. Once a waste canal, sewer, and water conduit for the city, the buried stream channel of Town Branch is an opportunity to reconnect the city with its Bluegrass identity and build a legacy public space network for the 21st century. Rather than introducing a single daylit stream channel into the city fabric, the design uses the local limestone (karst) geology as inspiration for a series of pools, pockets, water windows, and stream channels that brings water into the public realm.”

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The renderings show the movement of water and the use of stone to embody the conceptual ideas of the Karst geology, which is responsible for the landscape of disappearing and reappearing springs.  A more expansive overview of the landscape type from the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) site describes it as:   “A landscape formed by the erosion of bedrock, characterized by sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage systems. Many of the surface features are due to underground processes of the weak acids of groundwater dissolving the rock and creating a varied topography.” 

 

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This is seen in the design concepts for the spaces that are woven through the corridor, an approach referenced in Toward an Urban Ecology as a ‘Geology as Materiality’ (p.38).  The Karst metaphor is incorporated with orderly frames, referencing with geology within a semi-formal urban context that softens the spaces while maintaining functionality.  This is where the design-centric approach would differ from the more formal restoration, referencing a key hydro-geological precedent in an urban context.  As mentioned in the book ‘Towards an Urban Ecology’:  “Town Branch is recast as hybrid hydrological and urban infrastructure, creating defined and safe spaces for water, pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles along its path.  In the downtown core, streets are realigned to make way for an extended public realm, where water is expressed not at the surface, but underground, as rainwater-fed filtration gardens clean the waters of Town Branch before entering the culvert below.” (p.36)

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The concept of the sunken areas allow for an immersive experience within an urban realm.  The separation of grade and edges of formal and natural provide variety of experiences that provide a model for ‘daylighting’ and applied urban ecology that is both functional and artistic, aesthetic but with some ecological rigor.  As mentioned in A/N: To create freshwater pools—SCAPE calls them “karst windows,” in reference to similar naturally occurring formations—the design will tap old culverts (essentially large pipes) that previously kept Lexington’s karst water out of sight.

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And more dramatically enveloping in a recreation of the Karst geology and incorporation of moving, dynamic water, while also allowing for physical access to the water, a rare treat in urban areas.  This image shows waterfalls near Rupp Arena, a high-visibility area adjacent to more formal plaza spaces at surface.
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The nature/culture connection is strong, and a unique model that is about the landscape of Lexington.  As mentioned in A/N: “Here it’s all about finding a unique identity framed around a cultural and geological history of a place,” said Gena Wirth, SCAPE design principal. “What’s replicable is the multipurpose infrastructure that unites the city, its story, and its systems.”

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Water Walks

An interesting part of the narrative is not just the project design, but the generative strategy used by SCAPE to develop the project.  Those already familiar with another SCAPE project, the fantastic Safari 7, (which will get some documentation here soon) will note some similarities of the use of place-based audio and mapping, They documented a public outreach process Town Branch Water Walk which aimed to connect residents to the local landscape.  From their site:

“The result, Town Branch Water Walk, is a self-guided tour of downtown Lexington’s formerly hidden water body, Town Branch Creek, with content developed together with University of Kentucky students. The design intervention is not a physical landscape, but a communication tool– using podcasts, maps, and walks for the interpretation of urban systems. The Water Walk gives a broad understanding of the biophysical area around the Town Branch, reveals the invisible waters that run beneath the city, and demonstrates some of the impacts each resident of Lexington can have on the river and its water quality. By sharing how water systems and people are interrelated—both locally and globally—the Town Branch Water Walk makes stormwater quality relevant, linking it with the history, culture, and ecology of the city.”

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The walking tour is accompanied by audio that can be used in situ as podcasts, and as more formal walking or bike tours – and this model/map was also used at events along to provide  listening stations for the various stories.

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There’s more on this process worthy of additional exploration and future posts, and check out the audio and links at www.townbranchwaterwalk.com

All images via SCAPE

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